April 1, 2010
By Ian J. Twombly
Finding the right headset is a fine art. Between the various features, and that one critical component—fit—it can be difficult to find the one for you. We looked at all the high-end over-ear headsets available today and reviewed them here in one place. With the exception of the DRE-6001, all cost nearly $500.
Less expensive active noise-canceling headsets can be found, but not limiting the criteria would have meant including upwards of 15 models. Many of these also represent the best sellers, illustrating that pilots often equate price with quality. For even more headsets, check out our online guide. ( keyword Headset Review).
Beyerdynamic is new to the high-end ANR market, although the company has been making audio equipment for decades in Europe. Two unique features are the ability for the buyer to customize the look and its adaptive ANR technology. In an effort to both save batteries and adapt to different frequencies, the ANR system senses the level and frequency of the sound and adapts to it, at times even turning off completely. Includes an external audio interface.
Specs: Weight—11 ounces Battery life—25 hours minimum Warranty—five years dB rating—Up to 40 Price: $749 with customization Contact: www.beyerdynamic-usa.com
Reviewer comments: Ian J. Twombly, associate editor, Commercial, CFII, 1,050 hours “I really love the fact you can customize these to your liking. That, in combination with good sound quality, makes for a competitive headset.”
Considered by many to be the gold standard of aviation headsets, the popular Bose X is also one of the most expensive headsets available. The Bose X is available in either a powered-panel version or with batteries, and features dual volume controls.
Specs: Weight—12 ounces Battery life—Up to 40 hours Warranty—five years dB rating—Not released Price: $995 Contact: www.bose.com
Reviewer comments: Patrick Haller, AOPA director of marketing planning and analysis, Student pilot, 50 hours “It’s as close to not wearing a headset as you can get.”
The company with the green headsets has an unmatched reputation for quality and durability among its entire line. For many pilots, a David Clark is their first headset, and the company is trying to capitalize on that owner loyalty with higher-end ANR products. An auxiliary music interface doesn’t come standard on this model.
Specs: Weight—18 ounces Battery life—Up to 25 hours Warranty—five years dB rating—39 to 44 Price: $771, can be found cheaper online Contact: www.davidclark.com
Reviewer comments: David Jack Kenny, manager of aviation safety analysis for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, Commercial, 1,250 hours “The addition of electronic noise-cancelling circuitry noticeably cuts the background noise and improves sound reproduction compared to the passive David Clark I’m used to without a noticeable increase in weight.”
Although not as well known as others included here, DRE Communications has been making headsets for years, and the DRE-6001 is the least expensive we reviewed. It features dual volume control, a stereo/mono switch, gel ear seals, and an auto shutoff mode.
Specs: Weight—16.5 ounces Battery life—20 hours Warranty—three years dB rating—42 to 44 Price: $462.95 Contact: www.drecommunications.com
Reviewer comments: Dave Hirschman, senior editor, ATP, CFII 5,500 hours “The DRE-6001’s steel-band frame is rugged and built to last.”
Lightspeed has been toward the top of the headset charts for years, but the Zulu has a clear shot at beating the Bose X. With more features, such as Bluetooth and an auxiliary audio interface, it offers more functions at a lower price.
Specs: Weight—13.9 ounces Battery life—Up to 50 hours Warranty—five years dB rating—Not released Price: $850 Contact: www.lightspeedaviation.com
Reviewer comments: Ian J. Twombly, associate editor, Commercial, CFII, 1,050 hours “The Zulu is probably the most comfortable headset I’ve ever worn, with no pressure points, even after three hours.”
Sennheiser has been making some great headsets lately, and the HMEC 460 is a top-of-the-line model for general aviation pilots. It includes an auxiliary audio interface, a feature called NoiseGard, to protect the user’s hearing from loud sounds, a boom mic that can be worn on either side, and an inline volume control. Owners of turbine aircraft should try the on-ear HMEC 26, a great headset that weighs less and has less clamping pressure.
Specs: Weight—13 ounces Battery life—30 hours Warranty—10 years dB rating—41 Price: $877, can be found cheaper online Contact: www.sennheiserusa.com
Reviewer comments: Bruce Landsberg, president, AOPA Air Safety Foundation, ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, 6,000 hours “There is a definite improvement in long-term wearability over the earlier Sennheiser ANR headsets.”
The Telex Stratus 50 has all the hallmarks of a great ANR headset. It has incredible hearing protection through both passive and adaptive noise-reduction technology. It has multiple adjustment points for a close fit, an auxiliary music input, and a boom microphone that can go on either side. However, the ANR on our first test model didn’t work. We received a replacement with working ANR, but didn’t have time to fully evaluate it.
Specs: Weight—18.5 ounces Warranty—five years dB rating—50 Price: $719, can be found cheaper online Contact: www.telex.com/aircraft
Reviewer comments: AOPA corporate pilot, ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, 13,000 hours “Telex offers a good headset that rivals in quality with Bose. I would be able to comfortably wear this headset for an extended period of time without becoming fatigued as you do with so many headsets on the market today.”
Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.
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